BEIRUT (AP) – In order to stabilize Lebanon after a series of crises, France and the United States on Friday called on Lebanese politicians to urgently form a cabinet and planned an international conference to support the effort.
“All stakeholders must work urgently to establish a government that is capable of implementing reforms immediately,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.
The announcements came at a time of great uncertainty after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned over disagreements with the president over the form of the cabinet. He did not name anyone to fill the position. Hundreds of his supporters rioted in the streets, blocking main roads and throwing stones. On Friday morning, the Lebanese pound reached new lows, reaching 23,400 per dollar on the black market.
President Michel Aoun was expected to convene consultations with the heads of the parliamentary blocs. The person with the most support will be asked to work on the formation of a new cabinet.
In the United States, the Biden administration expressed disappointment that Lebanese political leaders have wasted the last nine months since Hariri was appointed.
France, once Lebanon’s colonial ruler, has been urging Lebanese political leaders to quickly form a government whose job it will be to implement much-needed reforms and fight the corruption that has brought Lebanon to the brink of bankruptcy.
France’s Foreign Ministry said the latest development confirms the political deadlock in which “Lebanese leaders have deliberately held the country back for months, even as it plunges into an unprecedented economic and social crisis.”
The ministry said there is now “an absolute urgency to get out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction.” He added that France, with the support of the United Nations, would convene an international conference on August 4.
The date marks the first anniversary of a massive explosion in the Beirut port that killed more than 200, injured more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital. The explosion was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored there for years with the knowledge of senior government officials.
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned days after the explosion.
Since the explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Lebanon twice and urged Lebanese politicians to quickly form a cabinet to implement reforms. Earlier this week, a French minister who visited Lebanon said Paris will soon begin imposing sanctions on politicians who block the formation of a government.
France hosted an economic conference for Lebanon in April 2018 that promised investments and loans worth billions of dollars in exchange for reforms. The funds were never released as the political class accused the political class of decades of corruption and the mismanagement continued with business as usual.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.
Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press